Saturday, May 23, 2009

Post 20: Tomorrow Never Knows

Saturday May 23, 2009

In My Life, I’ve had many wonderful experiences Come Together. Sadly, my 7 week stay in Cambridge is over. This Boy is all packed and ready to go. I Feel Fine from having heard some excellent Rock And Roll Music here. But it’s time to Get Back, to start thinking about what I’m going to do When I Get Home. It Won’t Be Long now. I’ll miss the Blackbird with the orange beak that chirps outside my window-- indeed, my Bird Can Sing. All I've Got to Do is get on the plane. Then I’ll Follow the Sun towards NYC. Cambridge, You Won’t See Me anymore. But Because my travels take me Here There and Everywhere, surely I’ll Be Back. Cambridge friends come to NYC Any Time at All.

This is the official close to my travel log/public diary from Cambridge. I want to thank Trevor Robbins and Barry Everitt for their generous hospitality and friendship, as well as some very stimulating and valuable discussions about brain, mind and behavior, and especially about our mutual friend, the amygdala. I also had interesting discussions with a number of graduate students and postdocs. It was also great spending time with Seth Grant discussing the evolution and organization of the many hundreds of proteins that make up each of the trillions of synapses in our brains, learning about Barbara Sahakian’s work on cognitive enhancement and entrepreneurs and decision making, and visiting Angela Robert’s impressive lab. A night out with Tony Dickinson early on helped introduce me to Cambridge music pubs, and also taught me some interesting things about the history of animal behavior research. Nicola Richmond and Mercedes Arroyo in the BCNI were very helpful throughout, as was Hannah Critchlow of the Neuroscience Program. The Downing College staff was amazing, especially the guys in the Porter’s Lodge, Carol De Biasi in the housing office, and Christine who attended to the flat. Meeting Damian O’Malley and his family was also a pleasure. And it was a treat to get to know Simon Baron-Cohen, and his family and colleagues, including Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Teresa Tavassoli and Jill Sullivan. Finally, playing music with Bhish and Simon, and Simon’s daughter Kate, was great fun, and it was very exciting to record some tracks with Simon and Bhish.

I don’t know whether I’ll keep writing this blog. But Tomorrow Never Knows.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Post 19: New York State of Mind

Sunday, May 17, 2009: I’m sitting in my small room at All Soul’s College, Oxford, thinking about my long stay away from NY, and especially the last few days. All Souls provides past visiting fellows a room for the night several times a year when in town. I’m in Oxford for the night visiting Milo, whose college, Merton, is just a few minutes away on foot. This is the tail end of a trip that started early Thursday morning and that is the beginning of the end of my mini-sabbatical away from New York.

I took the Eurostar from London to Paris, and met up with Nancy. We had a nice afternoon at Musée du Quai Branly looking at the amazing collection of primitive art from around the world. We then had a lovely meal at Le Petite Cour, which I highly recommend. Wonderful setting, tasty food, and not too pricey. Friday started at the Pantheon in the morning. After lunch we went our separate ways for a few hours before rendezvousing to spruce up for the Fyssen Foundation Award presentation that evening. This year’s recipient was Simha Arom, a musicologist who brought in African drummers to make some interesting points about rhythm. We then made our way to Al-Dar, a very nice Lebanese restaurant in the Latin Quarter.

On Saturday, while Nancy visited contemporary art outposts I spent Saturday at the International Symposium sponsored by the Fyssen Foundation. The topics were wide ranging and fascinating explorations from anthropology, evolution, molecular biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science. Each talk was cutting edge in its filed, and the day was stimulating and challenging.

There is no way to describe the Foundation’s 30th anniversary party Saturday evening other than, “ooo la la.” The event took place in the Hall of Evolution at the Natural History Museum. The hors d’ourves came in a trio of glasses stacked one on top of one another-- the waiter provided detailed instructions about how to proceed. The main course then appeared, also in a kind of vertical presentation with 2 roasted quail legs adorning a slab of foie gras which rested above some sort of artichoke concoction. Finally, the “surprise” dessert appeared. Dozens of waiters came out in a line, each holding a glass covered tray with a glowing white ball on top. The ball, which looked like it was filled with radioactive milk, and cover were removed to reveal several softball size dark chocolate balls, one of which ended up in front of each guest, along with some raspberry sauce around it on the plate. The waiter then poured warm chocolate sauce over the edge of the ball. As he snapped his fingers, a hole opened in the top oaf the ball, revealing a bed of mixed berries inside. It was a wonderful experience all around. Merci beaucoup to the foundation for a wonderful weekend.

When I get back to Cambridge I have to start looking towards NY. It’s been a fabulous 6 week stay in Europe, but it’s time to get my mind back on my life in New York. So the song of the day has to be Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. I don’t have it yet, but will by Saturday.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Post 18: Guns, Germs, and Squeals

This post can be found on the Huffington Post website:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Post 17: How Does Your Brain Work?

This post can be found on the Huffington Post website

Post 16: Highway 61 Revisited

In early April I took off with suitcase and guitar in hand like a poet and a one man band. Next stop was not Greenwich Village but the village of Cambridge. I planned to use the solitude of my brief bachelor existence to crank out some new songs. Well, I’ve come up with a few chord progressions and riffs, but somehow I haven’t been able to dredge up ideas for new diddys. I’ve reach deep into the dark recesses of my mind to break out of the crippling shackles of consciousness. I’ve tried deep breathing and meditation to allow exalted-consciousness to help me out. No matter where I’ve gone, there’s been nothing there. Nada. The well is dry. The pump empty.

I’ve only got two weeks left, but I’m determined to get at least one song out before I’m homeward bound. So tonight I sought inspiration externally. Off to the open mic at the Corner House where I hadn’t been since my first Sunday in Cambridge over a month ago. I thought there was a good chance I’d see some quality singer-song writers and maybe would get a boost from them.

Shortly after arriving, I notice Chris Cassboult. I wrote about Chris in Post 3. He did some excellent numbers my first time at the Corner House and I was sure he would jump start my synaptic juices tonight.

First up was Ed Hope and Friends. He only had one friend, a lass thumping a stand up bass, tonight. Ed himself got some amazing sounds out of cutest little guitar I’ve ever seen. He’s got a very nice voice, something like Glen Hansard, the guy who did the Oscar winning music from the Irish film Once. He also had some nice songs. Inspiration building. After them was a solo artist whose name I didn’t get, followed by Chris.

Chris did some powerful songs again tonight. Unfortunately, the crowd had started to chat, rather loudly too, just as he started. Still, his performance was very strong, especially the haunting rendition of Highway 61 Revisited. It reminded me of a really moving version of Elvis’s Viva Las Vegas that he did last time. Hard to imagine the flip Viva Las Vegas being described as moving, but it was.

So I’m hoping to channel the energy from Ed and his Friend and Chris’ Highway 61 Revisited (and a little inspiration from Dylan while I’m at it) to discover a new song or two. Song writing seems sort of like that, discovering something that already exists and you just have to find it. Reminds me of the selectionist view of brain development. In the extreme this theory says that everything we can possibly know is already in our brains, and we just have to eliminate ideas (by eliminating synapses) in order to gain knowledge. I’m actually not a big fan of this theory, or at least I didn’t think I was. But maybe I am since I just said that song writing is sort of like that. Maybe that idea about song writing was in fact in my brain all along, just waiting for a little synaptic pruning to reveal it.

Well, it’s too late to get started tonight but I’m hoping tomorrow I’ll find some lyrics to go with those chord progressions and riffs that I’ve already discovered.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Post 15: The Long and Winding Road

One of my goals for this mini-sabbatical was to make progress on the Biological Psychology textbook that I’ve been working on. And indeed I’ve spent a lot of my time here in Cambridge working on the manuscript and art. There’s been quite a lot of ftp’ing of files between me and Gabe White, the developmental editor based in Philly, with cc’s to Sarah England and Sheri Snavely at WW Norton in NYC, and Rick Gilmore, our ace consultant on pedagogy and content, at Penn State. And I’m pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished trans-Atlantically. I hope to leave here in 2 weeks with 6 chapters ready for final review before being sent off for copy editing. We’re not at the end the Long and Winding Road (today’s song) but at least we’re driving down it.

The weather finally turned sour. After weeks without rain, and often with warm sun, yesterday and today it’s been typically English dreary (though the sun just came out). Because it’s mid May, the heat is off. But it was so chilly in my flat this afternoon that I emailed the incredibly accommodating and efficient folks who run the housing facilities and within minutes they had little space heaters at my door. I’ll have some adjustments to make back in NY after having been looked after so well here. Speaking of which, have I mentioned that every week, a scout named Christine comes in for dusting and Hoovering (I first learned about scouts from Milo, since he has one at Oxford as well, though I think his room is too messy for her to even consider Hoovering)?

Tonight it’s dinner with Seth Grant, a great guy and fantastic scientist. We first met when he was in Eric Kandel’s lab in NY. Now he’s a got a very impressive facility at the Sanger Institute, just outside of Cambridge. We’re going out for a meat and potatoes pub kind of meal—my request, since I’ve had a lot of formal banquet type dinners lately with vertically-oriented entres sprouting colorful adornments.

Haven’t heard any music lately. Maybe I’ll head to The Hopbine tomorrow night for old times sake.

(Seth and Joe at The Three Horseshoes)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Post 14: Spanish Castle Magic

Spanish Castle Magic is the song of the day, my last day in Spain. I’ve came Valencia to receive the Catedra Santigo Grisolia, a prize given annually to two scientists in biomedical research or neuroscience.

Valencia has been very nice. It’s a beautiful city. Some years ago the River Turia was diverted away from the city center. Since then, the dry river bed has been put to various uses, including soccer fields and parks, but most impressive are the ultra sci-fi like buildings that constitute the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences): the opera house, cinemas, planetarium, museums. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, local architects. Running along side these-awe inducing bright white magical Spanish castles is an equally bright aqua pool that seems to go for miles, not deep enough for swimming, but good for cooling your feet on a blistering hot day, of which there are many here. This uber-modern area is especially striking because of its proximity to the narrow streets of the old city.

You can check out what the Ciudad looks like here: It's worth the detour!

My three lectures on The Emotional Brain, part of the prize event, were given in the Museo de las Ceincias Pricipie Felipe, a wonderful science museum within the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The museum has a collection of original drawings by the great Spanish neuroanatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Cajal was the architect of the “neuron doctrine,” the controversial idea (controversial in 1900) that the brain contains individual cells interconnected across spaces that were named “synapses” by the Cambridge physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, connecting some dots between my stay in Cambridge and my visit to Valencia.

It was a great honor to receive the Catedra Santigo Grisolia. Professor Grisolia is a world renowned scientist and it is wonderful to be associated with his name. Past awardees in neuroscience have been some of the most prominent in the field, including Richard Morris, Rodolfo Llnias, and Gerald Edelman, to name only some. In addition, my co-awardee was Avram Hershko from Israel, recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2004 for his pioneering work on protein breakdown by ubiquitin. And last, but certainly not least, I have many wonderful colleagues fromValencia, including Fernando Martinez Garcia, Paco Olucha, Enrique Lanuza (Paco and Enrique spent time in my lab a few years ago). Also Lorenzo Díaz-Mataix, from Valencia, is currently in my lab.

In addition to the generoisty and hosptiality of Professor Grisolia and his charming wife from North Dakota, my stay in Valencia was made memorable by Professor Vincente Felipo and his staff, especially Amparo Martinez.

Now it’s back to Cambridge for my final two weeks, with a trip to Paris in the middle. Time’s flying by. It’s been such a great sabbatical. My only regret is that Nancy wasn’t able to be with me on all these adventures.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Post 13: The Boy from New York City

Oo ah oo ah oo oo, Kitty
Tell us about the boyFrom New York City
Oo ah oo ah come on, Kitty
Tell us about the boyFrom New York City

It’s been a long time since you could show your face in Europe, especially in liberal academic crowds, and not feel venom, pure hatred, for everything American. Enter the age of Obama.

Just had dinner at Trvinity College, Cambridge. My host was none other than Horace Barlow, great grandson of Charles Darwin. More significant, Horace helped usher in the modern study of vision, one of the most important areas of research in neuroscience. He had been at my lecture last Tuesday, and so I emailed him to ask if he had time to meet before I left. He invited me to dinner, rendezvousing at the Great Gate, the entrance to Trinity, at 7:45 for 8 (a British expression meaning dinner starts at 8 promptly so be there at 7:45; there's no being fashionably late to formal hall). We walked over to the cocktail room, had a glass of champagne, and then moved into the gigantic dining hall, a room King Arthur would have been proud of. The Camelot ref is not idle, since Horace told me he got a work visa to come to the US the day JFK was shot. Though in the states for 10 years (he left just as Nixo was impeached) he's spent most of his academic career, which goes back to the 1940s, at Cambridge. We discuss lots of interesting things, such as how his mother had to reprint some of Darwin's works to keem his memory going, how the right question aobut consciousness is not what it is but what it's good for (social interaction, in his view), and about how the greatest acheivement he's seen in scince has been in science is the revolution in moleuclar biology and genetics. We also talk about another connection—his daughter and my son Milo are both "freshers" at Oxford, and Milo and his friends Mark and Shea entertained her when she visited NY last spring.

High table dinner speeds by since the main event is what happens after you down the fish and potatoes, and head to the back room. First comes the vote, and the rules. You have to raise your hand if you want Sauterne or Claret (port is also available, but is automatic and doesn't need a vote). At least 3 people must vote for one of the choices for it to be available. If the one you vote for is chosen , you must drink it first. The Sauterne and Claert both made it through the vote. Each was passed around, along with a vat of very potent, but very tasty, cheese. After the first glass of wine, you could drink any of the others left.

Private (left right) conversations dominated most of the evening. Then, at some point, the floor was taken by one of the senior fellows, and the discussion opened up around the table. Oo ah oo ah oo oo Kitty, Tell us about the both from New York City. The Italian lingquist across from me says, New York is such a wonderful place. So safe. So nice to vist. Americans are so open minded. Europeans are so traditional and stiff. Do I agree? The historian over to the left says Obama is quiet good, and he must proscecute Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rummy, and give them the death penalty. What do I t hink? The economist says the we've seen the last of Sarah Palin, wouldn't I agree. On and on, in a similar vein, from others. What a difference a year makes. Barack has really changed things.

OK. It's late. Yes, I had the Claret, Sauterne and port, not to mention the champagne before dinner and the red and white with dinner. So maybe I'm just in a wine induced state of delusional euphoria. But I don't think so. Things have really changed. We've exported a lot of bad sutff over the years (MacDonalds, Coke, right wing values). The world is now hungy for the export intelligent, wise, compassionate government: Obamaism.

Well, that’s it for the night. Off to Valencia in the morning. Will report from there, or shortly there after.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Post 12: Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Tuesday night after my Neuroscience Lecture here at Cambridge we had planned to pop over to the Bun Shop for live music once we were done with dinner. But sadly, they had no music. So we agreed to aim for The Haymakers some night soon. Hannah Critchlow found out that Thursdays are Jazz/Funk Jam Night there, so a group from Cambridge, and her friend Jo, made it out to Chesterton for the evening. I believe there was a little bait and switch: apparently Hannah tricked some of them into coming out by saying I was to join the jam. I quickly disposed of that rumor: my country-rock-blues-folksy songs would not fit in jive sonic palate being offered last night. Still, the people Hannah assembled were all really nice and fun to be with.

As with most, in fact all, musical events I’ve been too in Cambridge, the musicians were incredible. The jammed away all night doing songs by James Brown, Santana, and others in that vein, including a funk version of Day Tripper, which was really great.

In an earlier post I noted that I had come to realize that the Cambridge music scene was smaller than I thought at first since I started to see some of the same people at different places. Some readers took that as a dis of Cambridge, as compared to the NY, music opportunities. But I didn’t mean that small was bad. In fact, the music scene is Cambridge wonderful. There are actaully many venues, and for the cost of a pint you can listen to outstanding music all night. In NY you’d pay an admission fee and/or drink minimum, there would be 4-6 acts rotating through, one every hour, with a new drink minimum for each act, and the place would be jammed packed with people you’ve never seen before and never will again, and with the crowd changing for each act. Here, it’s a wonderfully elaxed atmosphere where many people know each other. In fact, I think a fair number of audience members are musicians at The Haymakers, at least that’s the way it seems from the 2 jams I’ve been to there.

I can say with certainty that I will long for The Haymakers, The Hopbine, The Corner House, Sung, and other wonderful live music venues in Cambridge when I return to NY.

This takes me to the song of the day by Eric Burden and the Animals: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.